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Fact-checking Environment Secretary Flynn on uranium cleanup, the Copper Rule and his attacks on environmentalists

By February 10, 2016November 29th, 2022Legislature, Press Releases

(Santa Fe, NM) – New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn gave a presentation on the 2015 Gold King Mine spill to the House Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee on Wednesday.
But Flynn veered from the topic to spread more mistruths in defending the department’s industry-written copper-mining rule and advocating for a bill that would make uranium legacy-waste cleanup contingent on new mining and waste disposal.
On HB293 Uranium Blackmail Bill:
Secretary Flynn took the opportunity to advocate for a measure that would force communities to accept new uranium mining or nuclear waste storage if they want any funds generated to clean up the dangerous waste left behind from the last wave of uranium industry activity. The Uranium Blackmail Bill (HB293, Brown/Lundstrom) is not a serious cleanup-funding bill. While building a small fund to remediate damage that the industry would cause, should they ever start mining again, could be helpful, it is not a serious attempt to remediate the devastating impacts of uranium legacy waste and new uranium mining.
As Secretary Flynn stated during Wednesday’s presentation, EMNRD has estimated 15,000 abandoned mines in New Mexico that will take tens of millions of dollars to remediate. To raise this amount of funding under HB293, massive amounts of new mining efforts would be required. Yet most western New Mexico  communities are still fighting against new uranium mining. For example, more than 9,000 public comments were submitted on the proposed Roca Honda Mine’s draft Environmental Impact Statement and the Forest Service said that 98% were opposed to the mine.
“HB293 is a half-baked hedge against the catastrophic environmental and community health impacts that would come along with new mining,” says Demis Foster, CVNM Executive Director. “This is a matter of respect. The people who have been impacted by uranium legacy waste deserve to know the problem is being addressed without having to worry about the additional harm that might be occurring from new mining.”
On the Copper Rule:
Flynn knowingly misled the committee when he said clean-water groups oppose the Copper Rule because it was proposed by a Republican administration.
In reality, clean-water advocates worked with the industry, technical experts and the Environment Department in developing the Copper Rule, and they supported the rule drafted with the Environment Department’s staff.
However, at the eleventh hour, Flynn discarded that rule and substituted his own that included every change asked for by copper-mining giant Freeport-McMoRan. This was in defiance of advice from his own staff and the former Environment Department Groundwater Quality Bureau chief, whom Flynn had hired to oversee writing of the rule, that Freeport’s requests would violate the Water Quality Act.
Secretary Flynn again repeated that those who oppose his Copper Rule “hate mining.” But everyone appealing Flynn’s rule recognizes a place for responsible mining, which is why it is so critical to make common-sense rules that ensure the safety of our groundwater from mining operations.
“Evidence presented at the Copper Rule regulatory proceeding shows that a strong New Mexico copper mining rule is technically and economically feasible”, said Rachel Conn, Projects Director for Amigos Bravos. “Even Freeport didn’t argue that it is economically infeasible to line new leach stockpiles, waste-rock stockpiles and tailings impoundments to prevent contamination. In fact, mining in New Mexico thrived under much stronger regulations before the Copper Rule.”
In appealing the Copper Rule, environmental groups are joined by its original author, former Environment Department Groundwater Quality Bureau chief Bill Olson, as well as other hydrology and groundwater-quality experts and the attorney general.
Multiple technical experts testified to the Water Quality Control Commission that the Copper Rule would likely endanger groundwater supplies, but Flynn could not get a single member of his own technical staff to testify in support of the rule, which is unprecedented.
Secretary Flynn repeatedly claims the Copper Rule is the strongest such rule in the nation.  In fact, it is less protective than Nevada and Arizona’s, neighboring states with major copper-mining operations, and far less protective than the law that covered copper mining before the rule was enacted.
Media Contact:
Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project, 575-590-7619,
Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-8327,
Mona Blaber, Sierra Club, 505-660-5905
Liliana Castillo, Conservation Voters New Mexico, 575-219-9619,